Putin and Bush’s Favorite PR firm

The public-relations firm that placed Putin’s op-ed ran afoul of propaganda laws under Bush.

From left to right, President of Chile Ricardo Lagos, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, walk in together wearing traditional Chilean ponchos as they arrive for the APEC Leader's Official Photograph at La Moneda Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004 in Santiago, Chile.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Sept. 13, 2013, 4 a.m.

With his op-ed in The New York Times Thursday morn­ing, Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin has done what no Amer­ic­an can—unite Con­gress. Gran­ted, it’s united by an in­tense, “vomit“-in­du­cing re­volu­tion at the spec­tacle of be­ing lec­tured to by a hos­tile strong­man in the na­tion’s pa­per of re­cord, but at least Putin can claim an un­likely bed­fel­low in Pres­id­ent George W. Bush.

Ketch­um, the PR firm Putin used to place his op-ed in The Times, was the same com­pany that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion used to pro­duce what the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice later called il­leg­al “cov­ert pro­pa­ganda.”

Un­der con­tract from the De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion, Ketch­um paid con­ser­vat­ive pun­dit Arm­strong Wil­li­ams $241,000 in tax­pay­er money to tout No Child Left Be­hind in ap­pear­ances on CNN and CN­BC, and to in­ter­view Edu­ca­tion Sec­ret­ary Rod Paige for TV and ra­dio ads.

Later, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­vealed that con­ser­vat­ive colum­nist Mag­gie Galla­gh­er took at least $20,000 from the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices via Ketch­um. There were also sev­er­al thou­sand dol­lars in pay­ments to Mi­chael Mc­Manus, who wrote a syn­dic­ated “Eth­ics & Re­li­gion” column.

But it was the fake news broad­casts that Ketch­um pro­duced on be­half of HHS that really ran afoul of the law, ac­cord­ing to two opin­ions re­leased by law­yers at the GAO. The health de­part­ment’s “video news re­leases,” which ran on loc­al TV news sta­tions, vi­ol­ated a pro­hib­i­tion on gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda as well as leg­al ap­pro­pri­ations lim­its. “HHS’s mis­use of ap­pro­pri­ated funds in vi­ol­a­tion of the pub­li­city or pro­pa­ganda pro­hib­i­tion also con­sti­tutes a vi­ol­a­tion of the An­ti­de­fi­ciency Act,” GAO gen­er­al coun­sel An­thony Gam­boa wrote in 2004.

Since then, Ketch­um has been busy work­ing for the Rus­si­an gov­ern­ment, se­cur­ing op-eds in CN­BC and The Huff­ing­ton Post, along with The Times, and mak­ing con­tact with ed­it­ors on the gov­ern­ment’s be­half. That is, when it’s not of­fend­ing food blog­gers.

But Bush and Putin are not alone. In 2010, Barack Obama’s HHS used stim­u­lus funds to hire Ketch­um to pro­mote the de­part­ment’s policy on elec­tron­ic med­ic­al re­cords. Obama is also the single largest re­cip­i­ent of dona­tions from Ketch­um em­ploy­ees.

Per­haps Obama and Putin can sort out Syr­ia over a drink at Camp Ketch­um.

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